Ilya suddenly found it difficult to breathe. “I… I don’t know. I don’t know if I can go out there on my own.”
Sieffre shook his head. “You must. Sorry! There is no one else.”
Another few pops, closer this time, and Ilya started to shake.
“You don’t understand. I… don’t do well under stress.” She started taking shallow gasps. “I’ll be as good as Mari, soon.”
Sieffre took in a breath as he thought. “Well, then you’ll just have to calm down.”
She looked at him incredulously from behind the palm of her hand.
“You can do it, Ilya. I know you can.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“You have no other choice. Now, you are aware you have this problem, so what do you normally do when you get stressed.”
“I, um… I…”
He nodded helpfully, “Before you pass out, please.”
She gasped, “deep breaths! Long, deep breaths….”
“Okay! Do it. Get going.”
“I,” gasp, “need you to count for me. Four seconds,” gasp, “in, four out.”
“In… one… two… three… Out… one… two… three….”
There was screaming; a man screaming in terror running through the halls, getting closer.
“In… one… two…” The screaming cut off abruptly as another shot rang out, loud enough to make Ilya jump, “three… Keep breathing, they’re still nowhere near you. Say it with me, Ilya. Out… one…”
“Out… one… two…” her voice shook but Sieffre’s calm demeanor was having its effect. After a few more repetitions, Ilya’s breathing was relatively under control again.
“You see, I was right! You can do this.” She didn’t respond, still counting the seconds to herself. “Now, you won’t see me out there, but I’ll be with you every step of the way. If anyone gets near you, I’ll give you a warning.”
Out…“How?” Two… three…
“I control the light, remember? I’ll blink them out twice like that.”
He pointed behind her and she turned around to see the door slide open and the dim hallway quickly fade out and in twice.
“And if you are in real trouble I’ll turn them on all the way for a few seconds to blind everyone. Be sure to keep your eyes closed.”
Ilya watched as his attention seemed to turn inward for a moment before focusing back on her.
“You really should get moving.”
In… one… two… three…
“Okay… okay. Okay, I’m going.”
Ilya turned away from the skrina and squinted into the dimly lit room. A giant rectangular blotch made it impossible to walk through the room and she walked into another desk before she realized she could switch the hand she was still using to cover half her face. Suddenly the room seemed to be awash in light from the skrina behind her. The hallway before her was practically glowing.
“Remember, through the intersection, second right, third door on the left.”
Ilya peeked into the hallway with her good eye. Beyond the light shining over the door of the women’s holding cell she could see the intersection was still empty. Glancing down the hall behind her, Ilya quickly tiptoed to the cell’s doorway.
Mari had slumped completely to the floor and was half hidden by the bench. She let out a low moan, and Ilya hesitated. If Mari was waking up, she should probably stay.
She could hear Sieffre from the room behind her, “There’s no time, Ilya. Go, I’ll lock her in.”
Ilya looked down the long hallway and back to Mari. In… one… two… three…
She pushed away from the door and rushed to the intersection. Its emergency light was already on its second fadeout before she realized Sieffre was warning you about danger. She heard boots and bare feet pounding in the other hallway; their shouts had more of a celebratory feel to them. Ilya slid to the floor and quickly scooted against the nearest wall, unsure of which direction the danger was coming from. Thankfully, the intersection was plunged into darkness just as several men ran by one practically skipping along, slapping the walls and ceiling as he brought up the rear. All of this Ilya pictured in the darkness as she hugged her coat around her with her eyes tightly shut.
Out… one… two… three.
She peaked with her good eye to see that the light was back on and quickly switched to the bad eye. In… one… two… three. She pushed her way up the wall and held her breath as she darted to the hall on the other side of the light. Out… one… two… three. Ilya felt safer as soon as she was safely in the shadows again.
She switched to her good eye again. In… one… two… three…